Archive for February, 2011

This is undoubtedly related to being a discovery writer. Sometimes, in the middle of a story, I get to meet a walk-on character.

Often, as with the current version of SEVEN STARS (possibly to be renamed CURSED), I know that there’s going to be a need for a character at a certain point in the story.  They’re in the plans. I’ve got two of those coming up in the next couple of chapters.

Sometimes, I reach a point in the plot and just need a character that hasn’t already been introduced to do something. I’ve had one of those in a recent chapter and there’s one coming up in the next chapter. These characters don’t have to do much as a rule. The one coming up just has to guide my characters to a secret entrance. I don’t expect he’ll do much besides that.

Then again, he could surprise me. The last character of that type has piqued my interest and just may end up with a bigger role.

But the real surprises are the complete walk-ons. The ones that were never planned at all, who just walk in and take on a part of the story. I’ve had one of those turn up in the last chapter. It wasn’t a role I felt I needed to fill. Maybe my subconscious did.

This character just showed up and told me he was an old friend of one of the main characters and that now that that character has begun to change, the old friend wants to hold him back and make him stay in his old roles. Cool! A new source of conflict. Can my character who’s just begun to believe in himself overcome the doubts of people who knew him before? How will the challenge affect him?

I also think that, probably unwittingly, this new character is going to have a role to play in moving my romance along. The main characters have been taking their jobs just a little too seriously. Someone needs to give them a little shove.  All work and no play . . .

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Title Time

Wow. Throw in  a Monday holiday and my days get all messed up. Almost forgot to blog!

It’s time for me to seriously start thinking about titles again. I’m just not very good at titles. But I’ve got to come up with a couple.

SEVEN STARS seriously needs me to find it a new title. (Now in chapter 17 and past 30,000 words.) This title sounds too much like Seven Samurai. It’s not that kind of story. Besides, with the new, much improved version of the plot, it doesn’t even fit anymore. I just haven’t been able to think of anything, yet. I’d go with CURSED, but that might make it sound like a vampire story, and it’s not that either. Well, if I can’t come up with anything better . . .

I also need to come up with a new title for BLOOD WILL TELL. It looks like I’ll be giving that a pretty thorough revision while the first draft of SEVEN STARS rests, including a new beginning, some tightening, and some work on one of the characters. If I’m going to think about trying to submit it again, it needs a new title, too. BLOOD WILL TELL was always supposed to be a working title. (So was SEVEN STARS, come to that.) But I’ve never been able to come up with anything better than WEREWOLF’S HONOR, which just stinks.

Time to rack the brain a little.

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Hello, my name is Meredith Mansfield and I’m a discovery writer.

And, no, I’m not looking for a twelve-step program. I like it just the way it is, thank you.

Some writers–many very successful writers–fully outline a story before they start. I know writers who have every scene mapped before they put “Chapter One” at the top of a page.  More power to them. If I outlined in that detail, I would never write the story. What would be the point? I’d already have told it.

For some of us, the more often we tell the story (and outlining is telling the story, just in a boring way), the less enthusiasm we have for it. We have to be free to find things out as we go along. We’re discovery writers or sometimes pantsers (because we write by the seat of our pants).

I set up a basic structure for my novel, so I know where I’m going. It helps to keep me from veering off into the weeds (too much). And then I start. I generally sort of outline about a chapter ahead as I go.

The fun part is, I’m learning parts of the story at the same time I’m writing the first draft. Yes, that means that I’ll have things I need to go back and add, change, or delete in the second draft. That’s okay. I make a note and move on.

But as I get really into a story, as I’m into SEVEN STARS right now, new things come into my head and I get to explore them, turn them around and look at them from the other side, and decide whether or not to put them in the story. It grows. It gets better. Things that were hazy when I wrote that proto synopsis come into focus. How to get the characters from A to B or how to accomplish that important plot point becomes clear. They’re still new and exciting and I get to write them while that excitement is fresh.

And I’m willing to bet discovery writers have more fun.

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I have to say, I’m having a lot of fun with this new version of SEVEN STARS so far. Switching the gender roles just opens up a world of possibilities for these characters and a lot of fun things to explore.

I’m up to chapter eleven, more or less alternating viewpoints between the two main characters. Right now, I’m in that interesting stage of bringing the characters together.

These two characters are very different, have different backgrounds, different ways of looking at things, even different goals. But, of course, because this is a story, they’re going to end up working together, learning to like and respect each other, and, eventually, falling in love.  That’s even more fun now with the female character being the dominant member of the pair in the beginning.

While their paths have crossed a couple of times, I’ve just really brought them together where they have to interact when she rescued him from certain death. Now they’re going to be stuck alone together for a couple of days so they have a chance to learn a little about each other.

This is much better than that awful trope I had in the first version. (We just won’t talk about that, alright?)

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The WIP Queue

First an update: Yesterday I finished the current draft of DREAMER’S ROSE. In the process, I managed to cut it from over 400 pages (approximately 100,000 words) to just over 300 pages and 75,000 words. It will still need at least one more pass before it’s ready for readers. It’s still not living up to its potential. There are problems I know I need to fix first, things I need to bring out more. And one whole section near the end where I practically lose the main character altogether. Well, she didn’t used to be the main character and that section makes sense from the other character’s point of view. But Rose has to be doing something useful during the climax. I’m going to have to give that some more thought.

Now, the WIP Queue:

Every once in a while, as I’m finishing up a couple of projects, I still get a little worried that there won’t be enough left to work on. What if I run out of ideas?  Not to worry.  A quick check at the WIP (work-in-process) queue allays those fears.

Leaving aside sequels, for the moment:

  • DREAMER’S ROSE: When a demigod succeeds in becoming a god only to find that nothing has prepared him for the challenges he now faces and the results of his own failures, it takes an outcast girl with the ability to enter dreams–even his–to help him make things right.
  • SEVEN STARS: When a young woman unintentionally unleashes the berserker curse in her blood, she is exiled from her home and everything she loves forever, unless she can find a way to control the berserker fury and, if possible, a cure for the curse.
  • THE SHAMAN’S CURSE rewrite: When a boy (or possibly a girl, in the rewrite) fails to save his friend from a flash flood and earns the hatred of the friend’s father, he can only put an end to the vendetta against him by learning to accept and use his own innate magic.
  • THE BARD’S GIFT: A young woman living on the frontier of a new world must learn to cope with an ancient gift amid the challenges of wresting a new home from dragons and malevolent neighbors.

And that, as I said is leaving aside (that I know of):

  • Two sequels for BLOOD WILL TELL
  • Two sequels for MAGE STORM
  • And one sequel for THE SHAMAN’S CURSE

And that’s just what I have fairly well-formed ideas for. No need to worry.

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This topic arises as I finally begin to make headway on the new version of SEVEN STARS.  I wouldn’t say I’m on a first-draft-in-six-weeks pace (which can be quite a wild ride anyway), but I am definitely making strong and consistent progress.

I’ve been somewhat resistant to writing this story. Not because I don’t like it, but because the first version of it fought me to a standstill at 50,000 words and refused to go any farther.

I set it aside and began tinkering with the plot to try to get my interest back up. But even though I liked the new plot line much better, I couldn’t flog myself into getting back into the story. Until I completely reimagined it.

In this case, I played with the gender of the main characters. Actually, I flipped them. The formerly male character is now female and the formerly female character is now male, which basically forced me to look at the entire story with completely new eyes. It’s too soon (chapter four) to tell whether this is going to work all the way through to the end, but either way it’s going to have been an interesting exercise and a useful way of getting back into a story I had some resistance to.

You can’t just change the genders of the characters and then go ahead and write the same story. Some other things will have to change. Even if your characters still have the same personalities and the same goals as before. The way other characters respond to them and their expectations of them will probably change. Even if they have the same goals, the way they go about trying to achieve them, at least for the first try/fail cycle, will probably change. The way they respond to challenges may change–and the skill set they bring to the problem.

Of course, since I write fantasy, I have the advantage of being able to adjust the world I set these characters in, too. But, in some ways, it’s more interesting to play with them in the original world, created for a character of the opposite gender, and see how it changes their responses.

Look at s couple of examples in the genre:

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Eowyn had essentially the same desires as her brother Eomer, and every bit as much courage, but she was constrained by her gender role.

In GRACELING, Katsa is faced with contradictory expectations. On the one hand, her uncle the king tries to treat her like any other lady of the court and marry her off to his advantage. All the while, he’s using her Graced talents to make her his strong arm and assassin.

Both characters who at some point have to break out of their assigned roles. I think that makes them more interesting. And I think it will make SEVEN STARS much more fun to play with, now.

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Well, so now I have a first draft and it’s been allowed to rest for about a month.  Time to start the second draft.

For me, the “second draft” involves multiple passes.

  1. The first thing I do is to read through and take care of the notes I made during the first draft. 
  2. I know I will need to flesh out the villain and side characters.  My first draft is always very centered on the protagonist and other characters don’t get all the attention the deserve in the first round.
  3.  Depending on how fast I was writing the first draft, I may need to add descriptions.
  4. I may also need to expand on the internal monologue and indications of emotion.

The word count often grows by a third during the second draft.

Then it’s time to get some alpha readers. At this point, I’ve written it and read through it at least three times.  I’m much too close to it.  It needs fresh eyes. This also forces me to let it rest again while the readers have it. Time to work on one of those other projects for a while again.

For me, it’s most helpful to get readers who will look at the entire novel as a block at this point. They’re better able to judge pacing, among other things. 

When the comments or critiques come back from the alpha readers, it’s time for the third draft, incorporating revisions based on the readers’ comments. I admit, it’s a little daunting to have more than one set of comments on the entire book at one time. So I tend to break the work up into more manageable chunks, like a chapter at a time. On the plus side, it makes it really obvious if more than one reader highlights the same problem. Then you know you need to fix it. 

After the third draft, and while the manuscript is resting once again, I begin preparing to submit. This is when I write and polish the query letter and try to shine up the synopsis. I will look for readers and critiques on both of these, as well.  The query letter is probably the single most revised piece of writing in the whole process.

When I think I have the query letter in pretty good shape, I’ll read through one more time and do a polishing edit. This is the really nitpicky revision, looking at words and sentences rather than at the story itself. 

Depending on how extensive the revisions on the third draft were and how confident I feel, I may look for another reader or two at this point. Since I’m looking for more detailed comments, this reading works well in a chapter exchange format.

Then it’s time to take a deep breath and start submitting.

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Every writer has their own process, their own way of approaching a story. The tough part is, we all have to figure out what it is for ourselves by just diving in and trying things.  At first, it’s just fumbling in the dark, but I think I’m starting to get a handle on what works best for me.

Some stories–notably DREAMER’S ROSE and the first attempt at SEVEN STARS–don’t seem to want to fit into this pattern, but the ones I’ve been happiest with, do.

Now, first off, I’m something of a discovery writer. Not hard core, but nearer that end of the continuum. I really find I need to identify at least three things before I can start a novel:

  1. The inciting incident.
  2. The central conflict.
  3. The climax and its resolution.

Most frequently, now, I write what I call a proto-synopsis before I start. It’s not in outline format and it doesn’t get into too much detail, which leaves me free to discover the story as I go. Besides, I’m going to need to write a synopsis sooner or later anyway. This gives me a starting point.

Next is the first draft. If it’s really flowing, I may complete the first draft in little over a month. These are usually the stories I end up liking best. 

The first draft is unidirectional–forward only.  No going back for revisions.  However, I will make notes of things that need to be done in the second draft.

  1. In order to maintain the momentum, I may have short changed a difficult scene. I may need to go back and flesh it out. This may get some sage note such as “Show don’t tell.” 
  2. I may realize that something needs to be further developed. In MAGE STORM, for example, I realized I needed to spend a little more time developing the friendships.
  3. I may insert something late in the story and realize I need to go back to foreshadow it a bit, so it doesn’t appear to fall out of the sky. In the last quarter or so of MAGE STORM, I changed what was going to be a large fish into a small water dragon. That made it necessary to go back to a couple of places earlier in the story and give some indication that such creatures might exist in this world. 

Then I try to let the story rest for a month. This is the time to work on something else. I also find that I like to follow Kevin J. Anderson’s advice to have more than one project at a time (in different phases) in order to maximize your writing time. Ideally, I’d like to have one story in development, one in first or second draft, one in revision, and one on submission. In reality, I usually don’t quite manage all of that, yet.

Next post, I’ll continue this topic.  Starting with the second draft.

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